Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Few Amazing Videos

Yes, I'm taking the easy route by sharing a few videos instead of writing a real post. My finals are coming to an end, and I should, in theory, be able to get back to my regular "weekly" posting within the next couple of weeks.

I saw this first video a couple of weeks ago. It took place all the way back in 2008, so I'm obviously not a rock climber. Seeing this video, in addition to the other videos in this post, makes me want to lose the 20 lbs I put on after getting married so that I can take on this physically demanding sport (although my love for backpacking will always be #1).

This second video features Ueli Steck and the same climber from the first video. Ueli (again, only recently discovered this video) is AMAZING. I had no idea that speed climbers even existed! What this guy does impresses me more than I can express. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people world-wide train for marathons each year, thousands also train for long bike rides, triathlons, swim meets, and many other sports which require absolute dedication, but what Ueli does is, by far, the most dangerous sport by far. Running up a mountain without ropes??? Crazy...

This last video shows Ueli breaking his own speed climbing record on the north face of Eiger. Don't know what Eiger is? Check it out here. Why the north face? The north face of mountains in the northern hemisphere is usually known as being the most difficult to summit (which is also probably why "The North Face" clothing line is called what it is). Watch this last video and be amazed.

If those videos aren't enough to inspire you, I have no idea what would:)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A few years ago I flipped through this book too see if it was something that I would enjoy reading. After I realized that it was filled with Aron Ralston's "adventures," I lost interest and felt that he probably used his accident in Southern Utah as an excuse to shot (what he considered were) his amazing accomplishments, and to talk himself up. I'll admit that it was probably my own pride that I was using as a filter, and didn't really want to hear about a kid my age achieving more within one year of his life (by way of outdoors accomplishments) than I accumulated as a whole up to that point in my life.

As soon as I was done watching 127 Hours for the first time, I decided that it would be a good idea to give the book a chance. About two weeks after this decision, I found my thoughts constantly going back to different parts of the movie, wanting to watch it more and more, and being driven to the bookstore. Being in graduate school and on a very tight budget, making extra purchases are very rare for me, but I felt that this book would be a good investment for my bookshelf.

From the start of this book I decided to ask myself whether Aron was really at fault for the predicament he found himself in - caught between a slot canyon wall and chock stone he dislodge while hiking the Blue John Canyon within The Canyonlands National Park. Although the many different adventures found within the book annoyed me several years ago, and kept me from taking the book seriously, I found that these all gave me a great deal of insight into his personality, his mental preparedness, and his ability to accurately (or better, inaccurately) weigh the consequences of his actions.

There is a common theme I found throughout the book: Aron likes to be alone. He took (and continues to take) pride in his ability to summit Colorado's 14,000+ feet-high peaks by himself. When he isn't alone, he ends up making poor choices, such as: the time he was with his sister at Havasupai Falls and fell on a cactus; or the time he was with a couple other guys and almost drowned in the Colorado River; or when he pressured his friends to drop down into a steep bowl of deep powder when skiing, only to trigger a massive avalanche which almost claimed their lives. Even when he was at The Canyonlands, he chose to follow through with his plan to hike Blue John Canyon, despite the fact that two girls he thought were attractive tried to convince him to go with them on their hike. It is my own personal opinion that he felt that it would be more impressive to the girls he met, if he were to continue his solo journey. He didn't say it, but it was his pride in doing things by himself which ultimately lead to his demise.

I can dissect the entire book, but feel that doing so would take away from the enjoyable parts which left me wanting to stay up late to read every evening.

I didn't see how Aron could possibly grab my attention with his writing to the point where I wait in anticipation for him to finally cut his arm off (hope this isn't a spoiler for any those reading this). He did such an excellent job of writing with great detail, that you honestly felt like you were with him each night as he struggles to fight through the hypothermic conditions - all while unable to give his legs enough rest to finally fall asleep. As he goes through his routine of wrapping his legs with his climbing rope, as he puts his head in his rope bag, and as he tries with all of his might to get a few minutes of sleep before his next designated time to take a sip of water - all of these moments you feel as though you right there with Aron, each step of the way.

I got to the point where I asked myself if the next page would be when he would have his "epiphany" or not. Although it is easy for me to say that I would have cut my arm off a lot sooner than he did, I understood through his writing that I, too, would probably need to get to that extreme point of desperation where I realized that I was left with no other option then to take that final plunge. 

Hopefully none of this takes away from the experience to be had when reading the book for yourself. Yes, he was a hot-headed kid who took unnecessary risks, but at the end you come to realize that the previous risks he took gave him the courage to take that final risk which ultimately saved his life. Although I found myself asking why Aron made so many poor choices up to that point in his life, by the end of his story I understood that those poor experiences may very well have prepared him for that final pinnacle moment where he found himself stuck, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."

(A short clip from Aron's original tapes while in the slot canyon)

*As an interesting side-note, Aron's book is no longer titled "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." The new edition which came out after the movie, and which I ended up purchasing (only because this was all that could be found on the shelves), is titled "127 Hours Between a Rock and a Hard Place."